With its many cultures and abundant natural resources and wildlife, Kenya is a land of contrasts, from the snow-covered peaks of Mount Kenya to the warm equator sun.
Kenya borders the Indian Ocean to its east and Lake Victoria to the west and has a total land area of 580,367 square kilometers. The culture is just as varied as its landscapes, with over 40 different ethnic groups. Only a small percentage of Kenya’s population lives in urban centers, around 25%. This means a greater part of the Kenyan population lives in rural areas, usually working as subsitence farmers. Only around 9.5% of Kenya’s total land area is considered arable, or good land for farming and agriculture. Kenya’s lands are rich with abundant natural resources, such as limestone, salt, gemstone, other minerals, and of course wildlife. Despite these rich resources, many people still live below the poverty line and unemployment remains high. Those living in poverty are often small-scale farmers who face food insecurity and are vulnerable to economic shocks.
Kenya has very diverse geographical regions, with two-thirds of it being mainly arid, semi-desert comprised of acacia trees while the south is mainly savanna. Cutting through the country is the Great Rift Valley which is a chain of mountains, dormant volcanoes and lakes. In the center of the country are highlands which include Mount Kenya and the Abedare Mountain range. Kenya’s savannas and arid lands are home to a variety of wildlife and habitats. Kenya is the proud home to many African species such as elephants, giraffe, wildebeest, cape buffalo and endangered rhinoceros. Large predators such as lions, leopards and cheetahs can be seen in Kenya’s savannas. Habitat fragmentation continues to threaten Kenya’s wildlife as the population and pressures on land grow.
Natural capital and land use
While Kenya’s population continues to grow, socio-economic pressures threaten natural resources and wildlife. Land use changes such as agriculture, human settlements and extractive industries have a significant impact on natural resources and wildlife in Kenya. Environmental degradation from land use change in Kenya is exacerbated by soil erosion, desertification and overuse. Proper land management is crucial to natural capital protection, improving livelihoods and sustainable development. Over 70% of people living in sub-Saharan Africa depend on forests and woodlands for their livelihoods, just one example of the connection between natural capital and socio-economic growth. Land in Africa is an economic development asset as well as a socio-cultural resource. Some of Kenya’s land, about 11%, has been protected to preserve its wildlife and ecosystem services that nature provides. Historically these areas were protected for hunting use but now conservation has been a rising force in the dialogue. Protected areas that were originally game reserves are now being turned into national parks for safaris and hiking. Both game reserves and safaris contribute significantly to Kenya’s economy. Kenya’s protected areas draw around 1 million visitors and bring in around USD $250 million, which contributes to 12% of Kenya’s gross domestic product (GDP). Kenya has recognized the contribution of its natural capital and is promoting sustainable land management throughout most of the country.
Kenya’s economy has continued to grow over the past years, on average between 4 and 6%. Due to its economic growth, Kenya has become the economic hub for East Africa. Agriculture continues to be the backbone of Kenya’s economy, amounting to about 25% of GDP, and 80% of Kenya’s population, or around 42 million people are employed in the agriculture sector. Services make up around 50% of Kenya’s GDP, which is attributed to mainly eco-tourism in Kenya. Despite this economic growth many remain unemployed and poverty is high. A majority of those living in poverty in Kenya are subsistence farmers, leaving them vulnerable to environmental shocks and changes.
Kenya and the Gaborone Declaration for Sustainability in Africa
Kenya is committed to pursuing the Gaborone Declaration for Sustainability in Africa by prioritizing and working towards the Declaration’s five objectives with the support of the Secretariat. With focus on water towers and accounts, the Secretariat will help support Kenya in its natural capital accounting priorities. The Secretariat will also assist in raising public awareness and advocacy for Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES). Kenya has also prioritized sustainable land use management in its national planning through collaborations with the Ministry of Agriculture. The country also hopes to build off its Atlas of Changing Environment 2009. With these priorities and other Kenya will work to meet the goals and objectives of the Gaborone Declaration for Sustainability in Africa and continue on the track to sustainable development.
National Strategies and Poverty Eradication
Kenya has historically incorporated many environmental assessments and policies into its national planning. Kenya’s Environmental Management and Coordination Act (EMCA) mandates that the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) prepares an annual State of the Environment report to be submitted to the National Assembly for decision making. The Ministry of Environment and Mineral Resources with the FAO has also produced the National Integrated Natural Resources Assessment of 2006-2007 which has natural resource assessment at its core for decision making. The Government of Kenya is working with the UNDP UNEP Poverty-Environment Initiative to complete the Kenya Poverty Environment Initiative (PEI) to support the integration of environmental issues into development policy, planning and budgeting process. As of a result of the Kenya PEI a strong environmental element has been incorporated into the Vision 2030, the national strategy for sustainable development.
Natural Capital Accounting
Incorporating natural capital into economic decision making and accounting has been of increasing importance to the Government of Kenya. In 2013 ministers from Kenya discussed the notion of natural capital accounting at the World Bank’s High-Level Ministerial Dialogue on Natural Capital Accounting and Kenya hosted the International Conference on Valuation and Accounting of Natural Capital for Green Economy (VANTAGE) paving the way for natural capital accounting in Kenya. The Government of Kenya along with the Gaborone Declaration for Sustainability in Africa’s Secretariat plan to build more capacity in natural capital accounting in Kenya and develop new natural accounts.
Private Sector Partnerships
So far, most of the development between the private and public sector in Kenya has been through organizations such as the UNDP and the Global Environment Facility (GEF). These organizations have established partnerships for sustainable development such as those between small-businesses which produce eco-friendly stoves, NGOs and the public sector. As the economic and business hub of Eastern Africa, there are many more opportunities for private sector partnerships to further sustainable development.
Image credits, top to bottom: © Conservation International/photo by Will Turner; © Ian Lenehan/500px; © Jon McCormack
Kenya Quick Facts
About 11% of Kenya's land has been protected to preserve wildlife habitat and ecosystem services benefits.
Kenya’s protected areas draw around 1 million visitors each year and who spend around USD $250 million— or 12% of Kenya’s gross domestic product.
Services make up around 50% of Kenya’s GDP, which is attributed mainly to ecotourism.
Gaborone Declaration for Sustainability in Africa Focal Point for Kenya